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A Entries
Forrest J Ackerman
Nick Adams
John Agar
Philson Ahn
William Alland
Irwin Allen
Woody Allen
Kirstie Alley
Gerry Anderson
Michael Anderson
Sylvia Anderson
Jack Arnold
 
ALLEN, IRWIN
(1916–1991). American film and tv producer and director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Produced and directed: The Animal World (documentary) (1956); The Story of Mankind (and co-wrote with Charles Barnett) (1957); The Lost World (and co-wrote with Charles Bennett) (1960); Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (and co-wrote with Bennett) (1961); Five Weeks in a Balloon (and co-wrote with Bennett and Albert Gail) (1962); City beneath the Sea (tv movie) (1970); The Time Travelers (tv movie) (1976); The Swarm (1978); Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (1979).

Produced: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (tv series) (1964-68); Lost in Space (tv series) (1965-68); The Time Tunnel (tv series) (1966-67); Land of the Giants (tv series) (1968-70); The Poseidon Adventure (Ronald Neame 1972); The Towering Inferno (1974); Adventures of the Queen (tv movie) (David Lowell Rich 1975); The Return of Captain Nemo [The Amazing Captain Nemo] (tv movie) (Alex March 1978); When Time Ran Out (James Goldstone 1980); Alice in Wonderland (tv movie) (Harry Harris 1985).

Directed: "Eleven Days to Zero" (also wrote), "The Village of Guilt" (1964), episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.; "The Crash" (1968), episode of Land of the Giants.

 
Somehow, it is hard to wax indignant about Irwin Allen. Perhaps I am a biased observer, since I occasionally watched and enjoyed his productions while I was growing up; but one can with some objectivity offer a halfhearted defense. His science fiction films and television programs were consistently stupid, yet inoffensively so; his cynical desires to please the masses and make money were balanced by evidence of some genuine interest in and fondness for the marvelous subjects he kept returning to (as opposed to, say, Glen A. LARSON); and while his leadership did not exactly encourage good acting or intriguing ideas, he did not seem obsessed with stamping them out whenever they happened to appear (as opposed to, say, Gerry and Sylvia ANDERSON). A selection of his best film and television works would be mildly enjoyable; a similar event devoted to Larson or Anderson would be a nightmare.

Allen's long career in science fiction and fantasy film is bookended by all-star inanities: the clumsy The Story of Mankind, where Ronald Colman argues against the Devil, Vincent PRICE, for the continued existence of humanity, with each advocate presenting historical vignettes to buttress their cases (memorably including Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton and Groucho Marx as Peter Minuit buying Manhattan Island from the Indians); and an insufferable musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, whose low point is surely a duet featuring the vocal talents of Telly Savalas and Ringo STARR. He followed The Story of Mankind with a reasonably faithful but undistinguished film version of Conan Doyle's The Lost World, with strong lead players—Claude RAINS and Michael RENNIE—struggling to maintain their dignity while gawking at rear-projected lizards (a surprising economy, since a previous Allen documentary, The Animal World, had briefly featured stop-action animated dinosaurs by Willis O'BRIEN and Ray HARRYHAUSEN), and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, an entertaining and well-cast undersea adventure undermined by the scientific idiocy of the menace involved—the Van Allen radiation belts catching on fire—a harbinger of future abuses of logic. On the fringes of science fiction was another film loosely derived from Jules VERNE's Five Weeks in a Balloon.

Allen's first venture into television was the series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, based on—and economically using the sets from—the film of that name. This was by far Allen's best series: Richard BASEHART played the commander of the submarine with unusual conviction; David HEDISON's high-strung irritability as his subordinate officer was at least a novelty in a genre dominated by bland stoicism; and the first-season, black-and-white episodes tended to be suspenseful and coherent espionage-related adventures. When color came, however, reason fled, and the crew of the Seaview was increasingly preoccupied by unconvincing mechanical monsters, rubber-suited aliens, and comic-book villains. Pinching pennies also became an evident problem: one episode was awkwardly constructed to make extensive use of footage from The Lost World (taking advantage of the fact that Hedison was in both the film and the series). Allen's second series, Lost in Space (surprisingly the later object of big-budget film homage), succumbed to juvenility more quickly: after a few initial episodes that endeavored to maintain a sense of seriousness, the writers realized that the only interesting members of the otherwise wooden cast were a robot, a boy (Billy Mumy) and a duplicitous saboteur (Jonathan HARRIS); and inevitably, episodes built around such a trio were matter-of-factly ridiculous. A third series, The Time Tunnel, floundered after one season, perhaps because of its bland stars, James Darren and Robert Colbert, perhaps because the series premise (two men randomly catapulted into various pasts and futures) gave the series no sense of control, perhaps because the writers were irresistibly attracted to cliché situations (the series began and ended on board the good ship Titanic). Land of the Giants attempted to return to the more realistic mood of the early Voyage episodes, but the ineptitude of its ill-chosen star—Gary Conway, an experienced tv second banana promoted to his level of incompetence—and the monotony of its one gimmick—tiny people juxtaposed with rear-projected giant people and props—killed the series after two seasons.

When no network was interested in Allen's fifth projected series, another aquatic epic named City beneath the Sea (the pilot of which appeared as a television film), Allen moved into successful "disaster" movies like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno; but his one example of the form that most veered into science fiction—The Swarm, featuring hordes of little black dots said to be killer bees—brought his involvement with the sub-genre to what might be termed a disastrous conclusion. Two other science fiction films, for television, were The Time Travelers, the unsold pilot for another proposed time-travel series (again, Allen displayed his amazing instinct for the obvious, sending the cast to the Great Chicago Fire) and The Return of Captain Nemo, a three-part miniseries featuring VERNE's character.

Overall, Allen can be admired for his energy and devotion to a wide variety of science fiction fields—he was one of the few, for example, who realized that Earth's vast oceans constituted an intriguing alien environment to exploit—but he certainly should have been more careful in his casting decisions (more actors like Basehart, fewer like Lost in Space's Guy Williams or Conway) and he certainly should have been less concerned with saving a buck whenever possible. It is no accident that his two best films, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, also had the most talented casts and the biggest budgets; these were lessons he might have fruitfully applied to his other productions.

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